Mandatory sentencing is a form of punitive sentencing in which a legal officer, such as a judge, has little or no control over a sentence that is enforced as punishment for a crime, but must instead give a set mandatory sentence. These types of sentences can be hotly contested by both legal professionals and advocates for defendants as they do not allow any leeway for consideration of specific factors and circumstances regarding a particular case. Proponents of minimum sentencing point to this as a benefit of the practice, and state that these types of sentences are far more effective as a deterrent for offenders.
A mandatory sentencing law typically indicates the type of crime that an offender must be convicted of, with specifics regarding the degree of the crime and whether it must be a misdemeanor or felony. If these requirements are met, and a person is convicted of the crime, then the presiding judge has no discretion regarding the sentence being given to the defendant, and the mandatory sentence must be issued. Proponents of such practices argue that because judges cannot show mercy or leniency, these practices work to enforce the impartiality of the legal system. They argue that with mandatory sentencing, everyone who commits the same crime receives the same punishment.
Those who oppose mandatory sentencing, however, point to the fact that this practice constrains a judge from properly doing his or her job, and does not allow for the particular circumstances of a crime to affect the punishment. Opponents use overcrowded prisons as an example of how mandatory sentencing has created a greater influx of prisoners, as courts are unable to decide on proper punishments for convicted defendants and must defer to the mandatory sentences. Some judges and similar legal officers have protested mandatory sentencing laws as obstructions to serving true justice and requiring blind enforcement.
Opponents argue that these types of laws can force especially harsh punishments on people who become victims of circumstance. Some regions, for example, use the amount of drugs found on a person to indicate whether that person was in possession of the illegal substance for personal use or to distribute. With a drug like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), this is often determined through the total weight of the paper that the drug is contained upon, and not just the amount of the drug itself.
Situations have occurred where someone had a small amount of such a drug, but it was on an especially large amount of paper, which required that the person be charged with possession with intent to distribute. This charge, in some areas, carries with it a mandatory minimum sentence that can be several decades in length. In this case, someone who broke a minor law and was willing to accept the punishment, was punished with a far harsher sentence and the judge was unable to use his or her discrepancy. Opponents of mandatory sentencing view this type of situation as a wholesale condemnation of such legal practices; proponents, however, observe that the person should never have broken the law in the first place.